More like a marathon than a sprint
Dear Pacific Western Region Congregational Leaders,
Unitarian Universalists by the hundreds and perhaps by the thousands participated in the Women's March in Washington, D.C., and in sister marches in cities across the United States to stand up for our shared values of compassion and justice for all people. I suspect this was the largest Unitarian Universalist public witness since the 1963 March on Washington. A weekend later, Unitarian Universalists across the country participated in demonstrations again at our nation's airports.
Will this level of participation continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead, or will it fizzle? It may depend on three things:
1. One study shows a deciding factor in whether a congregation participates in social justice in the wider community is ministerial leadership. Another study shows a deciding factor in whether ministers provide such leadership is participation in a small, relational group of colleagues. (Participation in such a group is also linked to less congregational conflict, greater congregational growth, and longer ministerial tenure.)
Take home: If you are a minister, I encourage you to make participation in such a group, whether a UUMA cluster or an interfaith group, a priority. If you are a lay leader in a congregation with a minister, encourage your minister's participation. If you don't already belong to such a group, especially if you are geographically isolated, consider starting an online group with colleagues.
2. Similarly, studies show the most important factor in whether individual congregation members participate in social justice activities in the wider community is also participation in a small, relational group. It doesn't have to be a social-justice oriented group. It could be a 12-step group, a knitting circle, a Bible study, a book group.
Take home: If you want members of your congregation to be more active in social justice, bolster small group programming within your congregation. Talk to your regional staff about how you might do this.
3. What doesn't make a difference in congregational involvement in social justice? Incredibly, prophetic preaching. A study of congregations during the Viet Nam War era showed how often ministers preached prophetic sermons had no effect on whether church members participated in anti-war activities.
My own experience serving a congregation that was actively involved in the wider community echoes this. I sometimes did preach prophetic sermons, especially if there was a specific call to action, but I also found that the more my congregation was involved in the wider community, the more important it was to preach pastoral sermons as well as sermons that explored specific spiritual and religious topics or Unitarian Universalist identity.
Take home: Connecting people to specific opportunities to be involved is more important than prophetic preaching every Sunday.
Friends, our efforts to make this world we share more compassionate and just will always be more like a marathon than a sprint. May we be wise in how we sustain ourselves and those we serve on the way.
Regional Lead, Pacific Western Region